Mustachian Fail Pets

Monthly Mustachian Fail – Cost of Pet Ownership

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We all know the MMM does not own any pets and he has written about it:

Good News! Dog Ownership is Optional!

I agree pets are a luxury item, and one of the earliest luxury items we splurged on. We even got our dogs before either of our cars. How many small city/suburban dwelling people own two dogs and not a single car?

This is the third monthly installment in my series on Mustachian Fails. As we are racing towards financial independence/early retirement (FIRE), we aren’t quite living up to the MMM gold standard. Sometimes we choose to spend more on our values, sometimes we just can’t break old habits. But we don’t beat ourselves up about those habits. We are radically optimizing our life to escape the rat race in the pursuit of FI (and happiness). Enjoy this month’s saga on two of our favorite pack members: Kewee(naw) and Mara. Hopefully you can pick up some tricks on how to save money without needing to drown your pets in a kiddie pool (please don’t do that).

Since we discovered FIRE, we have ruthlessly cut spending to align with our values. The less money you spend each year, the less you need to save before you reach financial independence. Do you want to reach financial independence fast without losing your life to work? Cut costs and embrace frugality!

Annual Estimated Spending in Retirement

Total Savings Needed Using the 4% Rule











One cost we haven’t been able to reduce much is pet ownership. Just having a pet means you will be spending relatively significant amounts of money on them annually. They are a part of the pack!


How much does having two large(ish) dogs cost every year? Lucky for you, we’ve been tracking this. We own two dogs, they each weigh about 65 pounds.

If you are debating adding animals to your pack, you probably can factor in

  • 2015: $718
  • 2016: $1,382
  • 2017 (ytd, but we don’t need to buy anymore dog food/meds): $959

This averages to a per dog cost per year of $1,020! Or $43/dog/month! Or $3,059 total for 3 years!

For us to continue having two dogs for the rest of our lives we will need to save an additional: $25,500.


If you are going to own a pet I think there are a few things that you should not compromise on:

  • Annual vet visit and vaccinations – If you can’t afford to do this, you cannot afford a dog
  • Dog food – you need to feed them (duh), we feed Science Diet, which is a middle of the road brand
  • Heartworm/flea/tick medicine as needed in your area
  • Housing that allows pets (we may, ahem, have gotten our pets while we lived in an apartment that did not allow pets…it was a stressful four months hoping to not be caught)


Just like for humans you can cut costs in taking care of your dogs. Here are some of the best ways to lovingly do that (I mean they are a part of the family right?!?):

  • Get a rescue that is up to date on all the vaccines. Our humane society partners with local vets so the first office fee is waved when you adopt.
  • Pick a breed that isn’t prone to high medical costs! (Whoops, we have a bulldug mix 🙁 )
  • Small dogs cost less (but I love my big dogs)
  • Don’t overfeed them! You wouldn’t want obese children, why are there so many fat dogs? We used to feed our dogs too much food. Then one injured both his back legs. The vet gave us two options, $10,0000 and one year of bedrest to do surgery and fix him, or get him to lose ten lbs and administer daily arthritis vitamins. We did not opt for the surgery.
  • Toys! Check out baby toys at yard sales, they hold up great! Bonus: some squeak!
  • Tennis balls – find a friend that plays tennis (or local high school team) and take their old non/bouncy ones.
  • Treats! We give our dogs extra pieces of dog food as treats.
    • Make homemade dog treats
    • Use your brewing wastes if you homebrew beer. Just be warned: Hops are poison for dogs, so if you add hops before you mash you shouldn’t made dog treats from the waste, just people treats.
  • Shop around for a quality/less expensive vet
  • Ask for a discount at the vet! We bring our dogs in together and save 15%. It takes both humans, but it’s pack bonding time.
  • Crate train your dogs! We didn’t lose any shoes during the puppy years since our dogs were in their kennels when the humans weren’t home. They love it, we have these ones.
  • Find a vet that will price match for prescriptions or let you order online!
  • Trade pet-sitting with friends, so you don’t have to pay to board your dogs. The only time our dogs have been boarded was during our wedding. All of our friends and family were at the wedding, and we didn’t want to hassle them with having to go let our dogs out.
    • If our friends aren’t available we have a college student that comes over and stays at our house and watches the dogs. We pay him in free homebrew, $20/night, and a stocked fridge. So convenient!
    • Or bring them with you on trips! Find a hotel that allows dogs for a small fee or free.
  • Do all your own grooming!
    • Dog washing
    • Nail trimming
    • Tooth brushing
    • Prescription administering
  • Hesitate before taking them to the vet. Obviously, I’m not talking about in a real emergency, but a small cut or slight limp probably doesn’t require a trip to the vet. If they’ve been vomiting for >24 hours obviously call the vet and seek some help.
  • You aren’t a bad dog owner if you don’t pay for all the upgrades at the vet!


Those costs listed above are just the direct costs of owning a dog. There are a lot of indirect costs too!

Here’s some costs you may not consider before getting a pet:

  • Larger home/apartment may be needed (tack on an increased fee/security deposit if you are renting)
  • Larger yard, having a yard is so convenient
  • Need for a fence: we spent $2,500 fencing in our backyard. I like the privacy, but we wouldn’t have done this for the humans alone
  • Larger vehicle, we still drive small cars no problem, but the dogs take up a bunch of space on road trips. If/when we add kids to the pack, we may need a larger car, or to travel more minimally.
  • Allergies! I’m allergic, but I didn’t have to medically treat my allergies other than an occasional allergy pill. Now, I have doctor copays and prescriptions to keep my symptoms tolerable. Whoops.
  • Dog photo shoots
  • Added driving! Have to run home to let the dogs out after work before doing other things.
  • Will you need a dog walker? Boarding?

But there are some added potential savings to owning a pet:

  • Pet modeling?
  • Motivation to workout for free! Running/walking with the dog, may save you money on health care longterm
  • Choose to stay in with your new best friend instead of going to the bar
  • Doggy play dates at people’s homes, instead of going to the movies
  • Greater happiness/motivation to keep focused on your personal goals


Watch our for dogs, they love their veggies too!

There’s a lot of great resources out there on how to be a frugal pet owner. Here’s some of the resources I’ve consulted over the years:

A counter-post to MMM by Frugal Vagabond: Dog Ownership is Optional – and Wonderful

Frugalwoods: Our Approach To Affordable, Responsible Dog Care – Frugalwoods

23 Tips for Frugal Pet Care by Frugal for Less


Monthly cost/dog = $43 with no major health issues

Annual vet visits are a must!

Preventative care should not be neglected!

Don’t listen to the media, you don’t have to buy everything

What are your frugal pet tips?


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